Despite heavily metaphorical setbacks, Golden State shouldn’t doubt its system now…
Last night, the Warriors lost to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Earlier this month, Golden State lost in the much-touted game against the Hawks. February also saw losses against some—if we’re perfectly frank—pretty crappy teams. A loss to Indiana while Curry was nursing an injury. A loss to the Utah Jazz late in the month of January. Throw in a couple close calls against Philadelphia and Minnesota, and you might start to wonder whether or not this team really is—as they were christened before the All-Star break—the best team in the league.
The temptation is to worry. The temptation is to blow things out of proportion, to panic, to doubt the system. With the month of February that Golden State has played, the temptation is to take the two losses to Atlanta and Cleveland and make them into a metaphor. I.E., to say to yourself, “If Golden State is supposedly the best team in the Western Conference, and Atlanta or Cleveland is supposedly the best team in the Eastern Conference”—sorry Toronto—“and if Golden State subsequently lost to both of these teams, then it stands to reason that not only is Golden State not the best team in the NBA, but that if the Warriors want to be a contender they must need to change some aspect of their system.”
That stance—or so I’m here arguing—is the wrong stance to take. Here’s why.
Firstly, both games against Cleveland and Atlanta were away games. Now, I know you can’t use that excuse once the postseason comes, but it’s important to point out. The Warriors obliterated the Cavs not too long ago, in early January, so to read into this game like it was some kind of Texas Hold’em tell would be like trying to read someone’s future by inspecting their palms. (I hate that crap.) Fact: Cleveland and Atlanta have the best home records in the East. Fact: Golden State, at 24-2, has the best home record in the NBA. So if you start to think about a seven-game series against either of these teams, you start to worry a little less.
Secondly, LeBron James won’t do what he did every night, and the Warriors actually did a fairly good job with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. James shot 4-of-9 beyond the arc—11 percentage points higher than his season average—and if he had been shooting just a little bit more like a human being, the game might have gone in a different direction. I really, really believe that if you can force James into a LeBron-versus-other-team scenario, you’re going to win the majority of those games if you’re as good as Golden State.
Remember the Spurs last year? It came down to a dynamic team versus a dynamic individual who makes his team much better than it is. The difference this year, of course, is that Cleveland has Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Golden State, though, has a number of good defenders it can throw at those players to slow them down just enough—like last night—to force the issue with James. Over the course of a seven-game series, I’m still taking the Warriors.
The Hawks, in their win against the Warriors, shot a torrid 55 percent from beyond the arc. Even for the league’s second-best three-point team, that was a kind of fairy-tale game from deep. Atlanta is shooting 38.3 percent from three on the season.
Thirdly, and I’ve written about this before, Golden State’s dynamic, distributive offense is going to pay off over the long term. The Warriors lead the league in assists and it’s not really close. Last night they assisted on 32 baskets to Cleveland’s 15 (!). Yes, the Cavs won, but again you have to believe in the numbers over a longer period of time. Two games—two of Golden State’s eleven losses, mind you—is a stupidly small sample size. Each of the last two non-Miami NBA champions—the Spurs last year and the Mavs in 2011—led the league in assists. That, of course, is also a small sample size, but because of San Antonio’s longevity of success it’s the way the league is trending. The Hawks are built in a very similar way—depth, minutes restrictions, three-pointers, high assist numbers—but Golden State has a kind of star-power that even Atlanta lacks.
The point is, Golden State shouldn’t panic. And if you are a Golden State fan, neither are you.